A Pleasant Surprise

March 16, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

On the Ides of March, I unexpectedly came upon a few hours of free time, and the weather was pretty decent. In the few days prior to this, one friend told me the location of an Anna's Hummingbird nest, while another friend had alerted me to a location that had been hosting a Northern Saw-whet Owl in recent days. I normally prefer to find things on my own, but given the short window of time I had available, I decided I would follow up one of these tips. The only question I had was which one to pursue, as the locations were in completely opposite directions from my house.


I chose to visit the place where the Northern Saw-whet Owl had been seen roosting. I had searched this spot a few weeks earlier, and though I never did find an owl then, I did come across quite a bit of "whitewash" (owl excrement) on and near various conifers. My search on this visit got off to a great start, as I came across plenty of whitewash:

Northern Saw-whet Owl WhitewashNorthern Saw-whet Owl Whitewash

Owl whitewash is pure white and has a chalky appearance; it does not contain any dark particles.

Some of the whitewash I found was relatively old, and some was fresh; some of it was near the trunks of the trees, while some of it was several feet out from the trunks. The possibility of me finding multiple species of owls seemed very real.


I spent a couple of hours walking around a large patch of land with a good number of conifers, alternating between staring at the ground  to find whitewash, and searching the more hidden parts of these dense conifers. Owls are quite skilled at finding daytime roosting locations that are inconspicuous, so they are often hard to locate, even when they are just a few feet away. As a result, I searched slowly and methodically, making sure to view the same trees from as many angles and distances as possible.


Despite following up on the leads of scolding chickadees (scolding birds can be quite useful in locating birds of prey), and coming across very fresh whitewash, I was having no luck finding an owl. I decided to take stock of the greater landscape, and revisit the inside of a tight patch of conifers one more time. As I looked up from the ground, I found myself eye to eye with this beautiful creation.

Anna's Hummingbird Nest

I immediately recognized this as a hummingbird nest. But what kind of hummingbird? The two species of hummingbird expected to be breeding in the area are Anna's Hummingbird and Rufous Hummingbird. Anna's are year-round residents in the Portland area, while Rufous Hummingbirds leave for the winter. Rufous Hummingbirds are just starting to return to Oregon, while Anna's are known to nest as early as February. So probability indicates that I had stumbled upon an Anna's Hummingbird nest. In addition, I heard a male Anna's Hummingbird singing from a nearby perch, and had seen several Anna's Hummingbirds flying about the general area.


I walked away in awe of this intricately designed creation that looks delicate, but is, in fact, quite sturdy. I was amazed that I had walked by it at least twice earlier without seeing it at all. I had been mildly disappointed that I was not able to find a roosting owl, but the thrill of finding a hummingbird nest more than made up for that.


Below are some more views of this nest - can you spot the nest in the first photo below?

Anna's Hummingbird Nest

The nest is halfway between the top and bottom of the frame, about 1/3 of the way from the left edge.

Anna's Hummingbird Nest

Anna's Hummingbird Nest

Anna's Hummingbird Nest As this last photo shows, there were no eggs or babies in the nest. Normally, I would not attempt to look down into a nest, but I had watched this nest from a distance for some time, and there was no female around. Had there been eggs or babies, the female would have been present, and she would have let me know this. As with all nests, extreme caution should be used when near them in order to not disturb or bring harm to the eggs, babies or adults. If you do find a nest of any species, I encourage you to be very cautious about sharing the location, as some people still collect nests, and some people value photographs of baby birds more than the welfare of the birds themselves. Also keep in mind that crows and jays will watch people to see what the people are watching, and will eat eggs or baby birds if they get the chance. The more people that end up staring at a particular nest, the greater the chance of that nest failing.



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